One criticism which has been made of your books is that the faith of main character, Emilio Sandoz, seems to lack a personal relationship with Jesus. What is the core of Emilio’s faith?
First of all, you have to understand, you’re working with a Jewish author. For me, the incarnation is a real problem. And yet, I am writing about people who are Christian. In the second book I tried more directly to deal with that. It comes out in the confrontation between Emilio and Sean Fein, who pushes his face into it. “What did Jesus add to the Canon?” That was the question I had to answer.
For the most part, what I see in Christianity is Judaism, and then the Incarnation tacked on. So, what does that add? Why is it so much more popular? It’s like my husband asked, Was it just marketing that made Christianity go so far? Why does it appeal to so many people? I hit upon the notion that Jesus offers a reaction to suffering, a way of understanding suffering. I didn’t get to the point of being able to write that until you see it in the second book. I can justify it but it’s post hoc reasoning: I think it has always been difficult for the character Emilio to identify with Jesus because that feels to him like arrogance–to identify with the deity. And so, he is more comfortable, emotionally, with his relationship with God because it isn’t so personal. That’s the way it works for him.
I tried in the first book to show that people have different theologies. You know, Mark Robicheaux, with his almost Islamic theology. And for DW, that was a more personal relationship, and his humor was a great part of hit for him. For Emilio, that was difficult.
The role of women for Emilio moves from that of a temptress in The Sparrow to a healer in Children of God. How is that important for Emilio, that transition?
There’s a Jesuit I had a lot of e-mail contact with after the first book, and he pointed out that he was not surprised that Emilio left the Society. He said, “You know, he’s never been able to open up to men. If you’re going to stick with this life, you have to be able to be friends with guys.”
And Emilio is not open. This priest told me that he thought it made so much sense, given Emilio’s background. He is a Latino male who comes from a culture and from a family where anything you reveal about yourself can and will be used against you. Men are dangerous to him. He has been beaten up all his life. His father used to kick the shit out of him. Women are weak. Women in some ways share his fear. And so in some ways, he is able to identify with women, because he is small, because he knows that in the same way that they can be overpowered, he can be overpowered. There is that kind of fundamental danger that he understands, and now has experienced.
What did you use for the model of the theology on your world, and is it different for the Runa and the Jana’ata?
I don’t know that the Runa have a theology in particular. They are in many ways coming to the point where they can see themselves as souls. The great gift of Jewish theology is that individual souls have meaning, that it’s not part of a cycle of life and death where the only important things happen in the sky where things are forever. The idea that you are a reflection of God and you have value because of that ?it comes from the theology of that relationship. The Runa don’t have that yet.
They were impossible to write about as individuals until they began to use the English word, I. And then the personalities popped out. I suddenly had individuals I could write about. They don’t really have a theology but they are on the cusp of being ready for a theology.
For the Jana’ata, the religious life is very similar to what you find in Egypt or Rome, or Greece or China. You have principles which are exemplified ?fortune, fertility. It’s not very gratifying. Again, because if you have any sort of sense that your own life is important, it’s much more satisfying to believe that it’s important for a reason. And that’s that God loves you. It think that’s why Christianity has such a global reach. It does things as a world view that other world views do not do for human beings. It satisfies a very deep and abiding need which goes unsatisfied in a lot of other religious systems.
What do you see as the future of the two worlds, and to do the Jesuits have a part in it?
I am not going to write a trilogy. It’s done. I’m finished with these people. But, there’s a little Jesuit wave at the end of the second book. The alien poet who goes to Earth, Rukuei, is named after the first convert made by Ricci in China. And that was my little wave to the Society, saying, yeah, I think something is going to happen here, and I think the Jesuits will remain part of it.
Science fiction writers often attack religion in favor of science. How do you relate the two?
I don’t find there to be any conflict between religion and science. My theology has to encompass everything I know, and that includes paleontology, geology, cosmology, astronomy ?and I didn’t get stupider when I became a Jew, and I didn’t get less sophisticated when I became a Jew. The key line for me is in Deuteronomy: You have seen with your own eyes what the Lord your God has done.”
Did writing the books tell you anything about God?
When you’re writing a book, you’re God. I made a world. I peopled it, I gave it a history and a geology and a paleontology and weather and an economy and species and an origin. And I made things happen. I did, in fact have a larger plan than any of my characters could understand. I made terrible things happen, and I made the worst things happen to the ones I loved the most. So, yeah, it has occurred to me that if God is an author, as devout readers of the Bible believe, then I have solved the problem of evil. It makes a better story.
Where were you in your transition to Judaism when your wrote the two books?
When I began writing The Sparrow, I had not yet converted. So, I wasn’t comfortable writing a Jewish character who was knowledgeable. And that’s why Sophia is cut off at the roots. In the second book, I allowed her to develop. I was ready to write a more Jewish character.